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Education: Where does Kentucky rank & why does it matter?

By Simona Balazs, CEDIK Research Associate

September is the time of year when our children sharpen their pencils, throw on their backpacks, and run to catch the bus that takes them back to school. Staying in school is important not only for your child’s personal development, but also for fostering economic growth within your community. To see how your county compares, check out CEDIK’s new Education County Data Profiles!

Having a higher educated work force is important for states because it will improve productivity, raise the quality of jobs and increase economic growth. But not all states are on equal footing. Some have higher educational attainment than others. Data from Census/American Consumer Survey (ACS) 2009-2013 survey shows that Kentucky ranks 47th among US states in educational attainment. The graph below shows the educational attainment for adults (age 25 and over) in the US. The states are ranked based on the percent of adults with a Bachelor’s degree. Unfortunately, Kentucky ranks among the last by that criterion. While 83% of Kentucky adults have a high school diploma (or equivalent), only 22% have a Bachelor’s degree.

educblog_fig1

Although Kentucky ranks 47th among US states in educational attainment, studies show that Kentucky’s educational and economic status has improved in the last decade (UK/CBER, 2015). Data also show that Kentucky’s total population with Bachelor’s degree or higher has increased by 20% over the last decade, and that overall per capita income has increased by 34% (EMSI, 2015). The following table shows education level, unemployment rate and average annual earnings for the state of Kentucky. Overall, the average annual earnings increase and the unemployment rate decreases as one increases their educational attainment.

educblog_fig2

The map below illustrates the geographic distribution of Bachelor’s degree attainment and per capita income at the county level. On the map, darker shades of blue mean that the percent of adults with at least a Bachelor’s degree is higher in that county, and the larger the bubble’s size, the higher per capita income in that county.

educblog_fig3Though this map suggests a link between educational attainment and income, it does not mean that a county’s education level is the only factor impacting per capita income. But in general, research (referenced below) suggests higher educational achievement leads to an increase in earnings and employment, better health and lower public assistance. Individuals are willing to achieve higher levels of education because, on average, they can earn more and get higher quality jobs. For many, additional schooling can also be a source of social mobility. One study looking at the impact of education on economic growth stated that a “more educated labor force is more mobile and adaptable, can learn new tasks and new skills more easily, and can use a wider range of technologies and sophisticated equipment” (Dickens, 2006).

Educational attainment is important to the economy. The fact that Kentucky ranks 47th in Bachelor’s degree attainment should motivate state policymakers to improve access to college education in order to keep Kentucky’s economy competitive and growing. Interested individuals can also see how education impacts your local economy by checking out CEDIK’s new Education County Data Profiles!

References:

Aghion, P. & all (2009). The Causal Impact of Education on Economic Growth: Evidence from U.S.. Brookings Papers on Economic Activity.

Dickens, W. T. & all (2006). The Effects of Investing in Early Education on Economic Growth. Washington: The Brookings Institution.

Economic Modeling Specialists Intl. (EMSI), 2015. http://www.economicmodeling.com/data/.

Hanushek, E.A. & L. Woessmann. (2010). Education and Economic Growth. International Encyclopedia of Education. Vol. 2, pp. 245-252.

OECD. (2012). Education at a Glance: Highlights. OECD.

University of Kentucky/CBER (2015). Kentucky Annual Economic Report. UK/CBER.

U.S. Census/American Consumer Survey (ACS), 2009-2013. https://www.census.gov/programs-surveys/acs/

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